Last Minute Halloween

Halloween this year is a rather last minute affair. That’s unusual for us. With our Irish background, we adore the festival and usually go slightly over the top with it. But there have been too many trips to Limoges recently and various other events cropping up so we’ve been short of time. However, we did prepare our Halloween snakes in advance. I mentioned the honey locust seed pods we collected in Limoges before. Rors got busy with his paints and turned them into super scary snakes.

But even at the eleventh hour there are easy things you can rustle up. Decoration wise, coffee filter monsters don’t take long. All you need are coffee filters, of course, and an imaginative youngster.

Now food. Pasty bones are easy to rustle up. All you need are a roll of pastry, a sharp knife and a vague knowledge of human anatomy.

Take a hot dog sausage and the above knife and you can create an octopus, jellyfish, ghosty sort of monster. Here’s Ruadrhi’s.

Next come Caiti’s slightly more detailed one.

We’ll also be eating guinea-pig brains (walnut halves) and llama poo (maltesers – but brown M&Ms do just as well) with our tea. The main dish is flayed face. My version is based on this one at instructables.

Take your Halloween mask …

 

Turn it over and line it with clingfilm and pop eyes into place (blue M&Ms or olives etc).

Now add the skin. I use slices of jambon cru, but any sort of ham will do.

Once fully lined, add your filling. I use fried lardons (cubes of bacon) mixed with sweetcorn, grated cheese and cream cheese. Shove anything in you like! I used to put peanuts in too, but that was a bit of a salt overload, what with the bacon pieces.

Completely fill your mask mould, press the filling down with a spoon and then pop the lot in the fridge for a couple of hours to firm up. To serve, you turn it face side up and remove the mask and clingfilm. It usually comes out pretty well and tastes delicious. There’ll be an after photo on my next blog, or later tonight if I remember to update.

I’ve just realised that I haven’t made any witches’ eyeballs yet. These consist of peanut butter which you add roughly an equal weight of icing sugar to and then mould into a round shape. Shove a coloured M&M in for the pupil and there you are. If you have time, you can dip the whole thing, apart from the pupil, into melted white chocolate which makes it more eye-like.

So I must head to the kitchen to get those made. I hope some of these last minute ideas have been useful if, like us, you’re not very organised this year!

Happy Halloween!

 

 

 

Fabulous Fête de la Laine at Felletin – Wonderful World of Wool

Caiti and I had an outing this afternoon to the twelfth Fête de la Laine (wool festival) at Felletin in our departément of Creuse. I think we last went three years ago, and it’s come on in leaps and bounds since then. It’s more than twice the size now and the quality of the various displays is frankly through the roof.

We had a brilliant visit. There are a few new car parks in Felletin now too, which is a help. Parking was rather hit and miss before. We followed the marked route to the Atelier.

There were a few sheep in a pen outside. I’m not sure what breed they are, but they had very classy faces. They seem much better behaved than my Suffolks too. My three, Lavenham, Debenham and Tuddenham, would have been out of that pen like a shot!

There were bright colours everywhere. You couldn’t help but feel cheerful!

The various stalls were devoted to spinning, weaving and felting; selling balls of wool or ready-made articles of all descriptions i.e. knitted, felted, crocheted and woven clothes and accessories; and giving demonstrations of spinning and felting. You could buy everything from raw fleeces to rovings to superfine spun wool.

It was hard to be restrained but, now we’re out of the earning season, we had to be! Caiti invested in Mortimer the computer mouse.

Actually, he’s a brooch. We got him from this stall.

Birgit Nagelke is a truly stunning artist with a wicked sense of humour. She was selling felted dog poo for €3, felted dead animal rugs (Chris would have loved the mole one!) and felted ashtrays full of felted fag ends. Here is another pic of her display.

It was a real crowd puller. Birgit’s website is here.

Another lovely stall was Magali Bontoux’s. We loved these felted cats.

And this chart of dye colours, all from plants and vegetables.

I bought some pastel (woad) seeds and some gaude (dyer’s rocket) so I can make my own blue and bright yellow dyes in future. Magali doesn’t appear to have her own website which is a shame since her products are lovely.

We bought some handspun, hand-dyed wool from the www.renaissancedyeing.com stall. I shall be knitting socks with the woad-dyed blue wool in the photo below, and some manchots – hand and wrist warmers – from the other wools for Caiti.

Here are a few more photos to finish up with.

It was a great afternoon out and worth making the slightly tedious journey for. I shall definitely be there again next year. It’s not something any keen knitter or yarn enthusiast should miss.

 

 

A Nifty Fruit Picker

We harvested some more medlars the other day. (I’m very, very fond of this unusual and old-fashioned fruit.) We’d cycled past them many times – a fine crop, high up in a roadside hedge. No-one has showed any interest in them at all, so I decided I’d have them.

Reaching them was going to be the problem. There’s a fairly deep ditch just in front of the hedge and it’s too wide to lean across easily. Whacking fruit out of trees with sticks or branches is too damaging to everything concerned (and everyone, as I know from one painful experience!), so what were we to do?

Luckily we have our berry picker which Chris made a couple of years ago to reach blackberries in awkward places. Ruadhri had first go.

The Chris took over.

The berry picker is made from a length of tough plastic piping. Chris found the instructions for making it here on instructables.com. First he shaped the fingers at the top, and then, warming the piping over a gas flame, bent them forwards. They slip behind the berry or piece of fruit you’re after and ease it off the tree. The fruit rolls down the piping into a plastic bag which you attach to the other end with elastic bands. This bottom end of the pipe has been cut and flared outwards, again using heat, so that the bag doesn’t simply slip off the bottom. Ingenious!

Close up of the picking fingers

Our berry picker was the right size for the medlars, but not quite long enough so we’ll have to make a longer version since there are still a lot of medlars left on our secret tree!

The picker is the perfect size widthwise for medlars

 

Limoges Leftovers

We picked Benj up from University in Limoges on Tuesday and did some sightseeing. I blogged about our trip to the aquarium here.

Whilst wandering around the city, we came across several of these.

This is cockle shell and it makes one of the pligrim routes taken by St Jacques de Compostella. St Jacques is St James, one of the twelve apostles. Legend has it that he went to preach in Spain, but on his return was captured by the Romans and beheaded. Nothing daunted, he picked up his head, tucked it under his arm and walked back to Compostella where he then buried himself. A very self-sufficient, practical person was St James!

St Jacques’ symbol is the cockle shell, or scallop. There are a few explanations as to why. One is that these were found on the coastline of Finisterre, where he came ashore on his way to Spain. Another is that while he was being chased by Roman soldiers, he came to the banks of a river that was too wide for him to cross, even on horseback. The cockle shells rose up to the surface so that he could gallop across, and then sank again before the Romans got there.

It wasn’t for another eight hundred years that pilgrims began to visit his resting place. By the twelfth century around a million or so were coming each year. They came from all over Europe and were given a cockle shell to show that they had made the journey. (A trade in fake shells soon grew up, by the way!)

One of the pilgrim routes to Compostella, the way of Vézelay (Via Lemovincensis – the Latin name for Limoges), was used by pilgrims coming from north-eastern France, Belgium and Germany. Limoges was one of the most important pilgrim sites along the way. Gilded cockle shells mark the path through the city that the pilgrims took.

We also found these intriguing seed pods. The Avenue Albert Thomas is lined with the trees that drop them. We picked up a dozen or so. I want to get the seeds from some of them, and the more curly ones we’re going to paint as snakes for our Halloween tree. I’ve done some research and the tree is the honey locust – at least I’m 99.99% sure that’s what it is, although it could possibly be the black locust tree.

And to finish, a sock. Chris and I shared the driving to and from Limoges so when I was off duty I did some knitting and have got one of Caiti’s socks finished. Here it is, being size-checked before I shaped the toes.

 

Something Fishy in Limoges -L’Aquarium du Limoges

We picked Eldest Son and his washing (grrr!) up from Uni at Limoges yesterday for a brief half-term visit home. And, as usual, since we’re driving all that way, we made the most of the occasion to do some sightseeing in the biggest city in Limousin. Caiti had been staying with her brother for a few days and initiated him in the skills of making pizza, pancakes and omelettes so as to introduce a bit of variety into his pasta-based diet.

First we went to Mini Models model shop to get Ruadhri, blogger extraordinaire and winner of Junior Blogger of the Week at Keith Eckstein’s brilliant A Taste of Garlic site, some Airfix kits. He’s become interested in them, since seeing that great programme on telly last week where James May and some teenagers built a lifesize Spitfire from an Airfix kit! We dug Benj’s outgrown Airfix model planes out of the loft and that gave Rors the bug. Glue and paint fumes are wafting out of the kitchen as we speak. Ruadhri has diversified into tanks as well as planes. Ever the practical one, he’s sussed out that tank kits are cheaper and quicker to assemble than the trickier planes.

A quick refuelling stop at Quick hamburgers and then we hit the L’Aquarium du Limousin in Boulevard de Gambetta. This is one of the relatively few things, apart from hypermarkets, that are open in France over lunchtime. We’d been once before during our house-hunting trip almost six years ago now. And it was as brilliant as we remembered it.

Can you see the gardener eel popping his head up out of the gravel for a look around?

There are over 2,500 fish there, ranging from the colossal catfish Bébert to some miniscule tropical fish a couple of millimetres long.

Bébert

There’s a lungfish, an electric elephant fish, some stupendous sturgeons and carp that we’d love to have in our lakes, and a vast array of exotic creatures. I loved the lion fish.

He's impressive, isn't he?

Now, usually aquariums are in seaside locations, not slap bang in the middle of the country. But it is entirely apt that there is one in central Limousin since this is were Jeanne Villepreux-Power, inventor of the aquarium, was born in 1794. She also did a lot of research on the nautilus, and there is one of these unusual fish at Limoges too.

 

A moray eel and friend

 

Leopard eel

 

The aquarium's filtration system

And finally here’s a video that Chris took there.

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Autumn Beauty – Guest Post by Ruadhri Dagg

Another day of fencing reconstruction and strengthening has kept me and Chris tied up all day, so I handed over the reigns for this blog to ten-year-old Ruadhri today. He disappeared off with my camera and has produced a rather lovely little post.

But one quick photo from me first. The sheep have now been moved into the other half of the big field in front of the house. They’re next door to the llamas now. Here’s the initial standoff!

Over to Ruadhri:

Autumn is beautiful. I borrowed Mum’s camera and took some photos.

First I decided to take the photo of this oak leaf because it was enormous. It was 12 cm long and 8.6 cm wide.

This is where they used to be crops but now it’s been taken over by thistles. There are lots in the photo as you can see, and a few weeks ago I found a huge caterpillar on a thistle. It had a curved horn at one end.

I photographed this elderberry tree because the colour of its leaves was a lot lighter than the other trees. I also think it looks nice against the bright blue sky.

Here is a view of the distance with a ploughed field and some beautiful trees.

And here are some poplars and oak trees behind our big field.

Thank you for reading my blog! Salut.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pumpkins at Préveranges – Fête de la Citrouille

To celebrate the start of our off-season, and the build-up to Halloween, we went to the Fête de la Citrouille – Pumpkin Fair – at Préveranges. This village is about 20 km away and is in Cher. Our north-eastern corner of Creuse borders on that departément, and also Indre.

Préveranges Church

Préveranges, despite being small, is a prosperous village, with a beautiful church and a lovely park that we had a quick walk around.

But the main event was the pumpkin fair. This was in the central place of the village. The first thing we saw was this snakecharmer …

Isn't he cool?

Followed by this witch.

There were some truly stupendous pumpkins on display, real whoppers. We’ve had a very poor pumpkin harvest at home this year, all tiddlers, but they’re a fantastic bright orange.

There were a few artisans selling their wares. I succumbed to buying a slice of nougat caramel salé (salt butter caramel) which I’m saving for a Christmas treat. Possibly. (If the sound of it has made your mouth water you can buy it from here.)

There was a guess the weight of the pumpkin competition. I’m pretty sure it weighed more than me. And there were a couple of other food stalls, but we were visiting just after dinner so couldn’t be tempted. Rors had a lollipop though. It was a good afternoon for him as we came across not only a squashed, dried toad …

Very Halloweeny!

But also some hedgehog remains – spines and a few bones …

Sad but fascinating!

The poor old hedgepig was on the bench next to the Lavoir les Puces in the centre of the village.

So all in all, a very interesting little outing with a definite Halloween feel about it!

 

 

A Smurfing Success – Schtroumpfs Rule!

My food week isn’t going well. First it was interrupted by Baby Sarkozy (Giulia, not Dahlia after all) and then my computer refused to let me edit photos so I couldn’t do my Paté de Pommes de Terre article. And let’s face it. I’m not a foodie. I could happily live on muesli and chocolate – actually, I already do just about! So another non-food post for you.

Last night I went to the cinema for the first time in France. It’s taken five years, but I’ve finally got round to it. Ruadhri wanted to see the Smurf film. He doesn’t ask for much, bless him, so I steeld myself and said I’d take him. And it was brilliant! Rors was squealing with excitement through quite a lot of it. I didn’t quite go that far but I laughed a lot and was thorougly enteretained in Boussac’s little occasional cinema for the whole evening.

Ruadhri really loves the Smurfs – or rather the Schtroumpfs, as they’re called in French. He is addicted to the comic books (bandes desinées) about them. So now, having seen the film too, I decided it was time to find out more.

In case you didn’t know, Smurfs are fictional characters with blue skin, white trousers and white hats. They live somewhere deep in the forest, and travel long distances by stork. They began back in 1958 as a comic strip in Spirou magazine, drawn by Belgian cartoonist Peyo (Pierre Culliford). Soon they got their own comic, and then books and films, and then the merchandising machine swung into action. You can now get Smurf toys, figurines and games.

I’ve had a browse through the books. The stories are straightforward with lots of action. And they use the word ‘Smurf’ a lot – as a noun or a verb. You get sentences such as: ‘This time I’m going to smurf. I know it!’ and ‘It’s going to smurf us like a mouse’. Sounds confusing? Probably, but the pictures give an idea of what’s going on. The French version has an advantage over the English as we get the distinction between ‘schtroumpfer’ (verb) and ‘schtroumpf’ (noun). That probably helps the kids work out what’s going on a bit easier. And there was I in my books, trying to use as varied a vocabulary as I could!

Anyway, Ruadhri loves the books and I haven’t noticed him saying Smurf all the time. So I’ll let him work his way through the series. They’re the first books he makes a beeline for at the library. Closely followed by Scrameustache, another comic books series (but I’ll save that one for another day).

The Smurf books have been translated into 25 languages, and more than 25 million copies have been sold. Now I could do with sales like that! And now there’s the film too.

However, see this article for another viewpoint on the Smurfs as racist and anti-Semtic. Who’s right – Ruadhri or this professor?

Sunshine Soup

As part of food week, it seems appropriate to feature a guest blog from expat and cookery writer Jo Parfitt. Her first work of fiction, Sunshine Soup, has just been published.

Over to Jo:

Inspired by La Grande Rue

Many years ago I lived in France. I studied French at university and spent my year abroad as an assistante in a school in Normandy. I don’t know whether you know Neufchatel-en-Bray, but it’s pretty small. I was the only English girl of my age living there and I found it rather lonely. I love to eat and so that was how I whiled away the hours. I would wander up and down the high street, looking in the shop windows.   I particularly liked the patisserie.

One day, as I gazed at the tartes aux myrtilles and tartelettes au citron, the words French Tarts popped into my head. That would make a great book title, I thought.

Now, as I had told you, I was a bit bored and I loved to eat, so I hatched a plan. I would ask the people in the town to invite me to dinner and make me a tart and, in exchange, I would put their recipes in a book I was writing. I really believed this would happen, and so, it appeared, did my potential hosts. I got my recipes and solved my social life problem in one go.

Back in my dingy flat above the school boiler, I had no kitchen, in fact I could not even cook, but I was determined to write that book. After graduation, I did a little research and sent a synopsis to a publisher called Octopus. They accepted my proposal and about 18 months later, French Tarts was published in French and in English. I had never written anything before but this lucky break led me to believe that I could follow my dream and become a writer. Today, 25 years on, I have written 28 books, hundreds of articles, teach writing and am a publisher in my own right. I specialize in publishing books by and for people who live overseas.

Why am I telling you this? Well, because I believe that if you have a good idea, lots of passion and some self-belief, you too can achieve your dreams, even against the odds and even in a foreign country. My book succeeded because it was a good idea, with a catchy title, that came at the right time.

Without French Tarts I doubt I would have become the writer and publisher I am today. Neither would I be a decent cook. Living in France back then I would never have believed that I would go on to live abroad for the rest of my life. I have lived in Dubai, Oman, Norway and am now in the Netherlands.  I have become a pretty decent cook too, and wrote a second cookbook when I lived in Oman, called Dates.

This month I launch my first foray into fiction. Sunshine Soup is a novel about expats and expat life. Its protagonist is a cook and there are 20 recipes at the back of the book. French Tarts is no longer in print, though you can buy second hand copies on Amazon.

If you have a dream, however crazy, I urge you to go for it. You never know what may happen.

Jo Parfitt

Jo Parfitt  – author of Sunshine Soup, nourishing the global soul. Out now. Price £8.47 and available on Amazon. Find out more at www.joparfitt.com, www.summertimepublishing.com and www.expatbookshop.com

Presidential Baby and Three Happy Bilingual Kids

Baby Sarkozy's name is rumoured to be Dahlia

I’m interrupting food week for a non-foody blog. I couldn’t ignore today’s top news in France – baby Sarkozy who arrived on Wednesday night. Mother and baby girl are doing well and father is preoccupied by politics. He missed the actual birth but has since come home from Frankfurt, although probably not for long.

Mlle Sarkozy is a lucky young lady. She won’t be short of a bob or two and all being well she’s inherited her mother’s looks, rather than dad’s. She has a rather nice life of plenty waiting ahead of her. It made feel just a little sad this morning. As we cycled to school, something I don’t suppose Mlle S will ever do, I realised that the only new things Ruadhri was wearing were his runners. The rest of his ensemble, including bike and helmet, was secondhand at best but predominantly thirdhand. Most of his stuff is, poor poppet. And he hasn’t had a holiday in six years. However, he’s happy and bright, clean and smart, loving and creative, and I don’t think a lack of material wealth has had a negative impact on him. OK, he doesn’t have the Nike jogging suit or the Adidas runners or the Marseilles Olympique rucksack like a good few of his school friends do. He has perfectly acceptable alternatives. We chose to downsize our lives when we came here and this is the consequence. But we also have three bilingual children who are living extremely interesting lives and aren’t scared of a challenge. Chris and I have shown them that you can break out of a rut and go for it. Rors isn’t doing so badly.

 

I took Ruadhri to the Etang de Montet in Boussac yesterday. It’s a small lake on the outskirts of the town and it has a fitness trail around the edge of it. We had a go at most of the challenges and a really great time.

A bit wobbly!

Neither Rors nor I could reach some of the hanging bars so we had to miss those activities out. And what’s this? Don’t the French know it’s leap frog and not leap sheep? Dearie me!

There were plenty of things to climb …

And finally the seesaw …

A last picture. Outside the College nearby there are these awesome ‘sculptures’.

So, baby Sarkozy will be growing up comfortably, and I hope happily, in the Champs Elysées. Well, all things considered, it’s pas mal growing up in the champs around here too!